This pamphlet is the first of the TRT instructional aides for spouses, adult children, parents and other partners of chemical dependent people. The pamphlet number is:
This material is for TRT participants. It also provides family members and friends information about the TRT program so that their support for the participant may be enhanced. The TRT Educational Program, including this material, is not intended for general interest ‘reading. It is not a solicitation to engage in TRT. Neither is it authorization to provide TRT to anyone. TRT is authorized for use only under the super- vision and facilitation of a Certified TRT Counselor. The authors of TRT, and/or their designates, are the TRT certifying authority.
The First Phase of TRT;
Identifying and Describing Difficult Experiences
Writing is a very valuable therapeutic tool. It helps to bring clarity and understanding to events that are difficult to recall. It also provides an orderly way of reviewing facts and identifying feelings about subjects that have caused stress. Because writing has such a positive effect on the process of recollection, we incorporate it as a fundamental part of TRT.
Phase One of TRT begins with a written description of your experiences. This description takes the form of a specially written letter. There are five basic elements of this description. It is important that all of these elements be included and no others added.
The first element is the person to whom the letter is written. Second-person language (“you”) should be used rather than the third person (he, she, him or her) when addressing that person. As an example, a woman who is writing in Phase One about an embarrassing experience of her husband’s alcoholism might say:
“We went to dinner. You became drunk and passed out at the table. Your face fell into your plate.”
The second person “you” allows the spouse to approach the incident directly. If the third person “he”, “she”, “him” or “her” is used in place of the second person, the TRT process will be thrown askew and the individual effort rendered ineffectual.
The second element, which you probably noticed as you read that example, is the tense of the verbs in the letter. Descriptions should always be written in the past tense. The reason is that as long as the emotional response has not been thoroughly addressed, the past experience exists in the subconscious as a current and ongoing process. By speaking of the event as history while simultaneously addressing the emotional response that has long existed inside, you start the process through which the experience is eventually put behind you.
The third element of the letter is the approximate time and place in which the particular incident occurred. For example, a mother of a chemically dependent child (or potentially dependent) would use this part of the writing to help sort out the different incidents of her child’s changing behaviors by writing:
“The first incident occurred during your last year of high school shortly after the fourth of July.”
At the beginning of your writing, remembering such specific information is usually difficult, as most of the experiences have been blurred together. However, once you have described several incidents of bizarre behavior as precisely as you can, you will remember much more readily the specifics of when other events occurred.
The fourth element is an explanation of what happened. This should be as accurate an account as you can provide. You should also be sure to depict any drinking or drug use that was related to the incident. Philosophy, opinions or rhetorical explanations should be left out. The following example shows how a person who was raised by an alcoholic parent, and who today, as an adult, is trying to address that past, might report the factual elements of a trauma-causing event. (*Note – all examples are fictional.)
“It was the fall of 1959. You took Kim and me to the store. I was eleven. She was four. I was riding in the back seat. Kim was in the front. On the way to the store the car began to weave back and forth across the road. I could tell that you were drunk because when you talked, your voice was slurred, you smelled of alcohol and you kept scraping the curb. You had been drinking all day. As a car approached us you turned into its lane. I thought we were going to hit it head on. The other car drove off the road. Then our car jumped the curb and headed into a telephone booth. I saw people in it and dove across the seat to turn the steering wheel. We crashed into another car parked in front of a convenience store. Kim and I were thrown to the floor. Blood was on my clothes, arms and face. Kim was screaming. Your head was slumped over the wheel. You were not moving and I thought you were dead.”
Providing an account of such a difficult story requires much support from one’s group. Such support can be given more readily when the account is accompanied by a description of the individual’s emotions at the time the incident occurred. Consequently, the fifth element of the description involves the person’s feelings. These feelings are expressed simply and without embellishment. For example, in the case above, the writer would have added, either during the report of the facts or directly thereafter, what he felt during the event:
“I felt fear as you headed for the other car.”
“I felt terror because I thought you were going to run over the people in the phone booth.”
“Lying on the floor I felt numb and in disbelief that this was happening.”
“I was afraid for Kim, you and me.”
“I was terrified that you were dead.”
It is extremely important that you not couch feelings regardless of who caused the trauma or how heinous the event – in terms of someone making you feel one thing or another. The loss that is yours as a result of the difficult experience will be resolved only if the feelings accompanying it are allowed to be identified as your own first and then shared with others. Any assignment of responsibility for those feelings to anyone else at this juncture of the trauma resolution process – for example, by saying “you made me feel”-will have the same effect as your never having done the hard work needed-to discover them in the first place. In other words, an expression of emotion preceded by “you made me” feel will reduce your ability to actually feel the emotion and thus dissipate the negative influence its repression has had on you. The sooner you are able to identify and experience those emotions as your own, the sooner the trauma will lose its influence on your life.
Experiences which involve violence are very difficult to describe and should always be discussed with your counselor. When such a description is necessary, the same 5 element special form is used. An example follows.
* Note – Even though this is a fictitious example, it may still be painful to read.
“It was Thanksgiving, 1973. You missed the family’s dinner and came home very late and drunk. I was angry and hurt. I asked you where you had been and you hit me in the face. My face and head were instantly numb. You threw me against the wall and began choking me. I felt shock, stunned and was becoming disoriented as the choking continued. I couldn’t breathe and began to lose physical feeling in my body. I felt terror and thought I was going to be killed: Then I started losing consciousness. Jimmy stopped you from strangling me. He took me to the hospital. I had bruises around my neck for a week. I couldn’t go out and I felt humiliation and shame.”
Telling Your Story:
A Special Consideration
A general note about the description of trauma-causing events. Do not worry that you might embroider or, at the other extreme, minimize an event. Usually, as the emotional responses to the facts are identified, better understood and then shared with others (explained in the next instruction), the factual realities as you actually experienced them will be reflected automatically. In addition, your counselor, who is well trained in TRT, will know when it is appropriate to assist your writing. With your counselor’s help and the natural aspects of TRT, there is a very good chance that your explanations will become a fair, strong and accurate representation of your experience.
At the beginning of TRT, the fear of confronting the feelings resulting from so much loss tends to inhibit one’s desire to read out loud what has been written. There is another problem, too: some people have been exposed to such severe incidents of trauma that they really don’t know what aspect of the trauma-causing event is appropriate to share. For example, people affected by sexual assault or severe physical abuse as in the previous example are usually still very shocked and deeply hurt by the event. In addition, they have retained their experiences of these episodes for such a long time that to mention them, even in the controlled TRT group, might seem overwhelming at first. Consequently, at these special times, make sure to read your descriptions with the close support of your counselor.
When reading the description, relate it aloud as if you are reading from any written passage. If the description does seem overwhelming or you feel like crying, then know that stopping for a moment and crying while reading about one’s life is the most common occurrence for all participants in TRT. Your counselor and / or your group provide the necessary support during such expressions of deeply felt emotion. You should be strengthened by these people’s caring and support and thus aided in completing your reading at a pace that is appropriate for you.
The group, one member at a time, will from time to time tell you how your story has affected them. Sometimes, these reflections will consist only of one-word expressions of feeling such as “shock,” “hurt,” “anger,” or “sadness.” At other times group members will tell you how you look to them both while you were reading and now that you’re sharing of the description is completed. Through these responses, you should eventually feel, if you don’t at the very beginning, even greater amounts of caring through real and shared understanding.
After one, two or even three incidents have been read, it usually becomes easier to remember and describe others. Sometimes during a reading you might share a great number of descriptions. At other times, one will be all that you want to read. Eventually, you will find that unless something is getting in the way, you will automatically recall all the trauma-causing incidents to which you were exposed.
Each description of a trauma-causing event takes the form of a letter written to a particular individual, addressed as “you”. This letter reports a particular event – the approximate time and place, what happened and the writer’s emotional response to it, which is expressed directly, without statements such as “you made me feel.” All verbs are in the past tense. Incidents of violence are written in conjunction with your counselor’s support. Descriptions are shared by reading them to your counselor and / or TRT group. Your counselor will provide a reading schedule appropriate for your needs. As each trauma causing experience is “brought up” to your conscious mind for a clear recollection, your feelings resulting from those events are intended to be heard in an orderly and congruent way that begins to impart a feeling of personal completion. As this experience of completion starts to be felt, the second phase of TRT begins. In this phase, the objective of TRT is that the losses underpinning those emotions will be addressed and, finally, reconciled – adding even more clarity to your understanding.
The next pamphlet is the second TRT instructional aide. It explains how to do TRT Phase Two for those involved with chemically dependent people. The pamphlet number is: